An age old cat and mouse contest is widening the eyeballs of box office prognosticators and theater owners courtesy of Tom & Jerry. The mix of live-action and animation reboot of a cartoon dating back to 1940 premiered simultaneously in multiplexes and HBO Max yesterday. This is how Warner Bros. is handling all their product in 2021 as we have already witnessed with The Little Things and Judas and the Black Messiah (and soon Godzilla vs. Kong). Reviews for the pic are certainly not rosy with a current Rotten Tomatoes score of 23%. And with the uncertainty of the box office for nearly a year, expectations weren’t much either.
Let’s be clear: in non COVID times, Tom & Jerry heading toward a $13-$14 million opening would be considered pretty disappointing. How times have changed. When considering that millions of subscribers could simply cue it up from the comfort of home and with around half of theaters still shuttered, an estimated $12 million start is impressive. Should this number hold, it would mark the second biggest opening gross of the Coronavirus era (behind only Wonder Woman 1984).
That’s more than The Croods: A New Age managed over Thanksgiving and it legged out to over $50 million domestically. There’s no reason to think the iconic cat and mouse won’t do the same. This is also music to the ears of Disney as they prepare to release their animated Raya and the Last Dragon next weekend (along with a Disney Plus rollout).
However, this news really must be encouraging to theaters chains and owners. This is a sign that family audiences in particular will turn up for new product even if it’s available on the couch. As for material outside of that genre, the jury is still out and lots of attention should turn to the aforementioned battle of two other famous creatures (Godzilla vs. Kong) in one month. One thing seems clearer today: the outlook for theaters, while still in flux, got a little rosier.
Today’s Streaming Guide focuses on one of the highest quality police procedural thrillers to emerge in recent years and it’s available for viewing on Netflix:
Director David Ayer has most recently been known for working with Will Smith on Suicide Squad and Netflix’s Bright. Prior to that, he specialized in Los Angeles set crime pics. He co-wrote 2001’s Training Day, in which Denzel Washington won the Best Actor Oscar before directing Christian Bale in Harsh Times and Keanu Reeves in Street Kings.
From the behind the camera, his best of the bunch in my view is 2012’s End of Watch. Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Pena, and Anna Kendrick, this is a gritty genre affair made with style and first-rate performances. It performed decently upon initial release. If you haven’t seen it, End is definitely worth the watch.
The latest low-budget concoction from Blumhouse Productions is Fantasy Island, a horror themed take on the kitschy 1970s TV series. Opening over the four-day Presidents Day weekend, Jeff Wadlow (who recently teamed with Blumhouse on Truth or Dare) directs with a cast including Michael Pena, Maggie Q, Lucy Hale, Austin Stowell, Portia Doubleday, and Michael Rooker.
Shot for a reported tiny $7 million, the pic will attempt to bring in youngsters without much reference point for the source material. That said, this particular production shop is savvy about getting an audience and turning a handsome profit. Nearly two years back, Truth debuted to nearly $19 million against its $3 million budget.
The gargantuan profit return may not be quite as pronounced here, but still substantial. For the Friday to Monday frame, I’ll say Island manages low double digits.
Fantasy Island opening weekend prediction: $11.6 million (Friday to Monday estimate)
If fish out of water tales with Mexican drug cartels is your desired viewing option, you can’t go wrong with “Breaking Bad”. Clint Eastwood’s TheMule is a considerably more mixed bag. Let’s call it Walter Whiter as our octogenarian subject makes a curious late career choice that is actually based (loosely) on true events. We have seen Eastwood go down the “I’m too old for this…” bit a few times in the past few years. This might rank as the strangest.
The first half of TheMule is engaging in its amiable way. Our star and director plays Earl, whose horticulture business is on its last legs thanks to that darn internet. He’s a man who makes fast friends and loves life on the road and has ignored his family along the way. That includes an ex-wife (Dianne Wiest), a child who won’t speak to him (real-life daughter Alison Eastwood), and granddaughter (Taissa Farmiga) who still wishes to connect.
A job opportunity arises for Earl to spend most of his time driving. It happens to be crossing state lines to transport larges volumes of cocaine. He’s pretty decent at the gig, earning the nickname “El Tata” (grandfather) from his heavily armed coworkers. Andy Garcia is head of the cartel. The new job leaves Earl flush with money and women. If you thought Clint Eastwood and threesome action isn’t something you’d ever see in a movie, think again. And again. Tata also garners the attention of the DEA, led by Bradley Cooper’s agent, Michael Pena as his partner, and Laurence Fishburne as their boss.
When TheMule enters its second phase, Earl is trying to make amends with numerous poor choices (a frequent theme in the filmmaker’s work). This is when the carefree tone shifts rather uncomfortably. None of the supporting characters are really developed at all. You get the feeling most of these accomplished actors just wanted to work with Clint. The dramatic exchanges with family members feels stilted.
I can’t deny there’s some joy in watching Eastwood for a while. If you loved GranTorino, you’ll probably at least like this. There’s also no denying that he’s tackled similar themes with far superior results. As Earl attempts to get his act together, he goes off grid from his day job. I doubt one of the true elements in this fact based tale involved his bosses not being able to locate him for days. Don’t they track his cell phone? Or have his vehicle bugged? I found myself pondering this in the final act. Despite a game showcase performance, perhaps resenting the screenplay’s disregard for the intelligence of drug lords means the picture isn’t clicking on all cylinders.
From the directors of the BadMoms pics, Jexi dials into theaters next weekend and is hoping for a decent reception. The comedy stars Adam DeVine as a loner obsessed with his phone. When he gets an upgrade that includes Rose Byrne voicing the title character/feature, life begins to improve until the artificially intelligent being develops an obsession with him. Costars include Alexandra Shipp, Michael Pena, Justin Hartley, and Wanda Sykes.
I have a hunch Jexi will have a tough time connecting with filmgoers. As far as its effectiveness via trailer and TV spots, I’m getting a bit of a Stuber vibe. That comedy with Kumail Nanjiani stalled over the summer with just an $8.2 million opening weekend. And one could argue Nanjiani has more drawing ability than DeVine.
Considering that, I’ll say this will be lucky to reach that number and won’t do so.
Making the leap from the Nickelodeon small screen for a live action rendering, DoraandtheLostCityofGold looks to cash in at theaters next weekend. The family adventure is based on the animated series “Dora the Explorer” that started back in 2000. James Bobin, best known for TheMuppets reimagining and AliceThroughtheLookingGlass, directs. Isabela Moner, recently seen in InstantFamily, is the title character with a supporting cast including Eugenio Derbez, Michael Pena, and Eva Longoria. Danny Trejo and Benicio del Toro provided voice work
Paramount is hopeful that a pot of gold will exist with Latino audiences and kids who’ve made the TV show part of their programming over the last many years. The film is probably review proof and they’ve been mixed so far. This shouldn’t face much trouble having the largest debut of the five pictures arriving over the weekend. I’ll say high teens to low 20s is where this lands.
DoraandtheLostCityofGold opening weekend prediction: $19.7 million
It seemed a little odd that Clint Eastwood’s The Mule held its review embargo for as long as it did (it’s out tomorrow). After all, the crime thriller which features Eastwood in front of the camera for the first time since 2012’s Trouble with the Curve certainly was an on paper awards contender based on history. The director is no stranger to Oscar attention as Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby both won Best Picture.
Critical reaction is out and it’s actually pretty decent with a current Tomato rating of 82%. However, I suspect the best comparison for this would be the last time Eastwood directed himself – 2008’s hit Gran Torino. That feature landed with audiences, but failed to garner a single nomination from the Academy.
Bottom line: while reviews are mostly positive, The Mule is likely to be more of a potential hit with audiences than Oscar voters. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…
Clint Eastwood has been consistently behind the camera and offering about a movie a year for quite some time. His appearances in front of it have been far less frequent in recent years. That changes next weekend when the Oscar winner directs himself in The Mule. The pic is a true life crime tale with Eastwood as a World War II vet who becomes a courier for Mexican drug cartels. Bradley Cooper, Laurence Fishburne, Michael Pena, Dianne Wiest, and Andy Garcia are among the supporting cast.
As mentioned, we haven’t seen its star in a film since 2012’s Trouble with the Curve. He hasn’t directed himself since 2008’s blockbuster Gran Torino. Adult moviegoers will be targeted here and Eastwood’s involvement could do the trick. Whether or not it opens on a large-scale or plays well throughout the holiday weeks ahead is a little uncertain. That might depend on its reviews, which aren’t out yet.
If The Mule manages to top $18 million out of the gate, it would actually be Clint’s largest debut of a feature he’s acted in (the current record is held by 2000’s Space Cowboys). While the wide release of Torino generated nearly $30 million, it was released in limited fashion for a few weeks prior.
That’s not out of the realm of possibility, but I’ll project it falls just short of that as it hopes to leg out nicely in the weeks ahead.
The Mule opening prediction: $17.6 million
For my Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse prediction, click here:
Size matters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the decade old multi-billion franchise reached its most epic heights in Avengers: InfinityWar. The only superhero who’s had their own stand-alone pic not to appear in that gargantuan production was Ant-Man, the character brought to life by Paul Rudd in the summer of 2015. Sequel Ant–ManandtheWasp follows a traditional Avengers tale like the original did. To say it feels smaller in scope is an understatement. Part one often failed to strike a satisfying mix and surprisingly struggled to make Rudd’s title character a memorable one. Whereas Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man and Chris Pratt’s Star-Lord were instantly iconic heroes, it didn’t work that way in Ant–Man. That’sdespite its star’s well-known ability to mix comedy and drama and some nifty visuals that made the third act a treat.
Rarely do we find an MCU effort without parental issues involved and they’re here. Scott Lang/Ant-Man is nearing the end of a two-year house arrest bid based on the events from CaptainAmerica: CivilWar. His former love interest Hope/heroine Wasp (Evangeline Lilly) and science wiz dad Hank (Michael Douglas) are hiding out as well while conducting experiments to find their mom and wife Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer). She’s been stuck for three decades in the quantum realm that Ant-Man briefly visited in the original. His experience there leads Hope and Hank to believe she’s alive and the search is on. The technology that leads to that mystical place is sought by a low life criminal (Walton Goggins) and his crew. The FBI is curious about it, including the main agent (Randall Park in amusing turn) tasked with monitoring Scott. And then there’s Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen), a molecular challenged young lady who has her own reasons to gain powers. She teams up with a former colleague of Hank’s played by Laurence Fishburne.
If you’re thinking that’s a lot of characters to follow, I haven’t even mentioned Scott’s returning daughter (Abby Ryder Fortson), ex-wife (Judy Greer), and current husband (Bobby Cannavale). There’s also his business partners and occasional fellow crime fighters including Michael Pena and T.I. So while there’s plenty of action to follow, the MCU knows how to make it easy to follow. Compared to InfinityWar, the amount of subplots seems practically minuscule.
Wasp finds Rudd settling more comfortably in the role and more humorously. That’s an aspect that was oddly not around much in 2015. Finding Scott with Pfeiffer’s character in his head in one scene provides some genuine laughs. Like in the original, Mr. Douglas appears to be having a ball. He gets his own chance to save the day at one point while his counterparts are engaged in a visually impressive car chase in the streets of San Francisco. Lilly doesn’t just share title credit here. She does have more to do.
Ant–ManandtheWasp is an improvement over the first. That’s a trait shared by other MCU sequels, especially in the Captain America and Thor series. Peyton Reed returns as director and the whole production feels more confident. It also doesn’t have the burden of being an origin story… something we go through a lot with this constantly growing genre. Like many of its subjects, the importance of what happens in these two hours feels small compared to the grand scale of other stories in this universe. More so than in 2015, however, Ant-Man’s existence in it feels welcome.
A bit of an awards season surprise turned up today when Warner Bros announced that Clint Eastwood’s TheMule will be out on December 14. The film casts Eastwood in the true story of a World War II vet who becomes a courier for Mexican drug cartels at age 80.
TheMule marks Eastwood’s first turn in front of the camera since 2012’s TroublewiththeCurve. It’s the first time he’s directed himself since 2008’s hit GranTorino. While it’s been a little while since he’s acted, he has been churning out directorial efforts every year. It’s no accident that every time he does, Oscar chatter follows.
Over the past quarter century plus, Eastwood has seen a number of his pictures win and be nominated. In 1992, Unforgiven won Best Picture and Director. Twelve years later, MillionDollarBaby was a surprise late addition to the awards season calendar (as this is). It also won Picture and Director. Additionally, MysticRiver, LettersfromIwoJima, and AmericanSniper all received nods in the big race.
Just last year, The15:17toParis was assumed to be another possibility for inclusion for consideration. It ended up coming out in February of this year and was a commercial and critical failure. Paris is nowhere on the radar screen for Academy chatter this year.
Will TheMule be a different story? Another MillionDollarBaby that alters the Oscar race? While we’ll have to wait for buzz and reviews (there’s not even a trailer yet), some signs point to no.
There’s already rumors that Warner Bros is looking at this as more of a commercial venture than one they will focus on for awards campaigning. The studio already has a very serious contender on its docket with AStarIsBorn. Speaking of, Eastwood’s costars here include Bradley Cooper (director and star of Born) as well as Dianne Wiest, Michael Pena, Laurence Fishburne, Taissa Farmiga, and Alison Eastwood.
Even if Warner doesn’t see this as their largest Academy player, we will see if critics and audiences feel differently. One thing is for sure – we have another movie to keep an eye on in 2018.